Background: Honey bees are an essential component of modern agriculture. A recently recognized ailment, Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), devastates colonies, leaving hives with a complete lack of bees, dead or alive. Up to now, estimates of honey bee population decline have not included losses occurring during the wintering period, thus underestimating actual colony mortality. Our survey quantifies the extent of colony losses in the United States over the winter of 2007-2008.
Methodology/principal findings: Surveys were conducted to quantify and identify management factors (e.g. operation size, hive migration) that contribute to high colony losses in general and CCD symptoms in particular. Over 19% of the country's estimated 2.44 million colonies were surveyed. A total loss of 35.8% of colonies was recorded; an increase of 11.4% compared to last year. Operations that pollinated almonds lost, on average, the same number of colonies as those that did not. The 37.9% of operations that reported having at least some of their colonies die with a complete lack of bees had a total loss of 40.8% of colonies compared to the 17.1% loss reported by beekeepers without this symptom. Large operations were more likely to have this symptom suggesting that a contagious condition may be a causal factor. Sixty percent of all colonies that were reported dead in this survey died without dead bees, and thus possibly suffered from CCD. In PA, losses varied with region, indicating that ambient temperature over winter may be an important factor.
Conclusions/significance: Of utmost importance to understanding the recent losses and CCD is keeping track of losses over time and on a large geographic scale. Given that our surveys are representative of the losses across all beekeeping operations, between 0.75 and 1.00 million honey bee colonies are estimated to have died in the United States over the winter of 2007-2008. This article is an extensive survey of U.S. beekeepers across the continent, serving as a reference for comparison with future losses as well as providing guidance to future hypothesis-driven research on the causes of colony mortality.